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Code of Ethics For Real Estate Photographers

July 15th, 2009

While cleaning up the blog I ran across the summary of a series of posts and discussions from two years ago on the subject of ethics. Two years ago this was a fairly heated discussion with opinions all over the map so what I did was attempt to summarize the general consensus of how readers felt about modifying real estate marketing  photos.

I added a link on the right side-bar to this page (Code of Ethics under Other Links) because it would be useful to people just starting in the field of real estate photography.

The bottom line is there isn’t total agreement but there was general agreement on everything but how much you should modify grass and landscaping. I’d like to hear from readers that have ideas for improving this proposed code of ethics for real estate photographers.

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14 Responses to “Code of Ethics For Real Estate Photographers”

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  • I am a real estate agent and the Code of Ethics agents adhere to is very clear on this topic and I can/will speak from that point of view specifically. Here is my understanding in the most elementary terms; however you represent a property to a buyer had better be what it really is when the sale closes. For example, if there are no oil stains in the driveway in your photos, there better not be any when the transaction closes or I can absolutely guarantee the agent, the agent’s broker, the photographer, the photographer’s company will be named in a lawsuit. In all likelihood in the example given the suit would simply require the seller, etc. to remove the oil stains, and that could mean anything from actually removing the stain to as much as replacing that section of the driveway. Its not worth altering photos and running the risk of a lawsuit when all you have to do is make sure what the buyer sees in a photo is what the buyer sees when they arrive at the property and ultimately what they are buying. Not only is it unethical to alter photos, if you do, your begging for a lawsuit.

  • Is it me or are David Davis’s comments completely ridiculous? Does he honestly believe that someone will print out all the pix of a house, drive to the house, compare every picture of the house to the actual house itself, note all the changes that seem to have been made in the photos, submit a contract to buy the house, have an inspection on the house (and not point out the changes to the photos), do a final walk through of the house (and still not point out the doctored parts of the photos), settle on the house and then sue everyone. Seriously, that might be the most ridiculous scenario anyone could possible come up with.

  • When discussing this topic there are always those who warn of lawsuits. I’ve heard this many times but haven’t hear about an actual case. Life is full of taking risks. You risk life and limb every time you take a car ride to the local grocery store. But you accept this risk. I’m wondering what the real risk is (chance of the photographer being sued) when enhancing photos to make the property look a-little-bit better than actual. I wonder if Larry or someone else involved with this blog would collect actual cases where there has been a significant complaint and help us with lessons learned.

  • As a photographer, I feel it is my job to give my client what they want. All my clients sign a contract before a shoot. One of the things in that contract states that I will not “doctor” the photos unless asked. If asked, I will do so while making sure the agent is aware of the code of ethics and the MLS rules. I will then deliver both the Photoshopped and Unphotoshopped version of each modified image.

    It’s up to them how they decide to market their listings and conduct their business. It’s up to me to provide my clients with good service and options.

    There have been a few cases where the agent has wanted the photo to be doctored to use in their own Sold Listings portfolio – not as a direct means to market the property. Not every doctored photo is used for marketing the home. Perhaps a home owner wanted it as a keepsake or some other legitimate reason.

    I have not heard of a photographer being legally liable for misrepresenting a home. Having a contract can help mitigate the risk, and beyond that… That’s what insurance is for.

  • In the 10+ years I’ve been involved in real estate and very close to real estate I have not heard of any agent being sued for any issues relating to photography. There may have been some suits like this, I just haven’t heard of them.

    I think a bigger issue than being sued by a buyer for misrepresenting a property is the one of building trust. All the successful agents I know are concerned about building trust with buyers, sellers and other agents. Most buyers will see the property face-to-face before they purchase and they will make their decision on that rather than the photos. Buyers will also notice if the listing agent is purposely being deceptive with the photos.

  • How many times have you seen a development that says “Artists Representation”? and there are trees as far as the eye can see, – yet you know there are roads and buildings where all of this nature is suppose dto be

  • Andrew- Yes, for many years it was exactly this argument that lead me to, “go too far” modifying photos. The reason this argument doesn’t fly is that a photo is recognizable as a photo and carries with it an expectation of “reality” that goes with it. Modified photos are generally regarded as deception, even though marketing photos are routinely modified.

  • While not common, houses are sometimes sold and bought sight unseen. In those cases, the buyer has to rely on representations of others. That includes photography. If the photograph materially misrepresents the property, then there is liability attached.

    I never modify any structural defect, including holes in walls. I will do my best to represent colors fairly, lighting fairly, based on what my eye perceives as real. My eye will not perceive room shadows or bright spots lacking in detail. It perceives whites as white unless they are off color creams. I will remove trash cans and even furniture from a picture. Same with leaves on the lawn. Those are things that can and do change. There is no expectation that they will not. I will not remove power lines from a picture but HUG HUG HUG HUG HUG try like heck to rake a picture that avoids them. Again, I try hard to represent reality, if for no other reason than the MLS rules require it.

  • Haven’t heard of a case like this, haven’t considered a more “ridiculous scenario” – I may be going out on a limb here but, ignorance apparently is bliss, unfortunately ignorance is not a defense in court. I may have oversimplified my example but was trying to illustrate the point. Notwithstanding my poor illustration, it hardly warrants ridicule. Lastly, you can be sued for just about anything these days. We live in a world where life, liberty, and litigation are the “new pursuits.” Therefore, in my opinion, if you walk unaware, you are apt to step in dog crap.

  • Oil stains on the driveway may have happened after any pictures had been taken. Cracks in a foundation wall may have not. Lenses alone can make a room look bigger, and I have seen homes advertised with certain room sizes that are very much misrepresented. The balance is between enhancing and hiding. For any property I have sold or purchased there is a Yes, No, N/A or Don’t Know questionaire that had to be completed. I think as long as pictures don’t hide or obscure info relating to these questions, there can’t be too much concern. A lot of marketing and advertising relies on smoke and mirrors, real estate is not an exception.

  • I live in a hilly harbour city where views of the harbour are highly regarded. When we take view shots they have to be taken on the property. We do not remove powerlines etc that spoil the view. When we use a lens over 50mm we note that it is taken with a telephoto lens. It is the Government Dept here that comes down on RE Agents acting on complaints from buyers and there have been several cases in the past. Buyers regret is the issue here and they sometimes nitpick to comfort their regret. Adding blue skies is fine. Using wide angle is fine as it is simply showing the whole room in one photo rather than just a corner of a room. A measured floor plan helps restore the proper dimensions.

  • David – Most agents will avoid any lawsuit at all costs. Oil stains in a driveway would be seen at the time of inspections or the walk thru and addressed simply as a credit on the closing statement. That assumes that they were not noticed upon the first showing.

    MJN

  • Great posts here. I agree with David. Realtors have to be careful when “enhancing” their listing photos. Digitally removing “permanent” objects is a no-no (power lines,cracks in foundations,driveways,dead trees,adding live trees or grass,etc….) I experienced this first hand when renting a small house just right off the beach for vacation a couple of years back. The real estate office/rental agency took a photo of the ocean and said “ocean view”. Great photo, reason why we rented it. It was one tier back from the beach. We got there and was totaly shocked to see that the “ocean view” was shot with a telephoto lens straight thru through a 6 story parking garage in front of the small beach house. I was upset to say the least. We could sit and enjoy the view as long as no one parked……middle of the summer folks…busiest time fo the year…yeah loads of cars. Just stick to the basics of enhancing your photos like color, white balance, contrast and brightness. Leave the other stuff to Glamour and redbook……and yes folks do notice the smallest details (oil stains!) and the cost to clean it up comes from your commission check!

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